Despite its wealth of historical monuments and glorious vistas, central Vietnam in May is an act of self-flagellating masochism.
But let me begin this account from the beginning, with everyone’s favourite travelling trope – a crazy bus story.
We took a sleeper bus from Dalat round the mountains down to Danang, with the rain pounding the windows and the night sky lit by lightning, like an epileptic’s nightmare.
During the night, the bus came to a halt on a twisting mountain road. Up ahead, vehicle floods lit a rabble of people inspecting some obstacle in the way. I needed to stretch my legs so I got out to have a nose at what was going on.
Have you ever been so hot, you could see your skin sizzle in the sun, popping like hot oil in a pan? Could you genuinely hear the marrow boiling in your bones? Has your face ever melted off, dripping from your skull like a Nazi opening the Arc of the Covenant?
Because if you have, you’ve gone quite mad.
However, it feels like those things might be possible in Vietnam during the month of May. Forty degrees centigrade is no environment for a human, and yet, there they are, the denizens of Saigon, wearing hoodies in the heat, and gloves in the sun.
Thankfully, Vietnam has its own Cameron Highlands-style hill station, namely a town called Dalat. Its altitude makes it a blessedly temperate place to visit, and a welcome break for our delirious pores.
I wrote this in Bangkok airport as we were about to begin our voyage back to London, to dampen the misery of ending our trip. There are still a couple of entries to make – for central Vietnam, northern Thailand and Bangkok – but alas, I’ll be writing them from England…
So here, in no particular order, are a few things that make ending a six-month jaunt around Asia slightly more endurable.
1 – Sunshine
It might sound contradictory to miss Britain for the sunshine, having spent six months in south-east Asia during its summer months. But it’s a different kind of sunshine – the kind you can stand in for more than 10 minutes and feel it on your skin without peeling like a snake. The kind that makes you want to absorb it, not hide in the shadows.
Ho Chi Minh City is hectic – let’s just get that out there. The streets are a torrent of traffic, through which you pass like a miniature Moses; while the biblical plagues of rats and cockroaches will have you worrying after your first-born.
But I’ll pass over those minor details and skip to the chase: we were here to meet some mates.
The first was Robbo – that’s his name, not John, as he sometimes introduces himself; just Robbo – who I went to school with and have known for two, long, pun-filled decades. He is almost infuriatingly kind and generous and thoughtful – if that’s possible – and is as funny as his favourite joke:
“Why did the girl fall off the swing? – Because she had no arms.”
After celebrating our engagement with a bottle of Sailor Jerries, we woke early to catch our bus to Kampot. It wasn’t my favourite journey, I have to say. We hadn’t had time for breakfast, save a couple of tiny bananas, and the heat and hangover conspired to send my body into some God-awful blood-sugar crash.
Thankfully the bus driver was happy to stop while I breathed deeply on the roadside and tried to de-clamp my hands. Swarana shoved bananas in me and one of the passengers swapped his seat with mine so I could sit in the front. Lovely chap – as Cambodians generally are. Continue reading Kampot of gold→